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Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad

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Written by  L. Frank Baum
(as "Edith Van Dyne")
Illustrator  Emile A. Nelson
Published  1907
Publisher  Reilly & Britton

Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad is a 1907 juvenile novel for girls, written by L. Frank Baum. It is the second in the ten-volume series Aunt Jane's Nieces, which was, after the Oz books, the second great success of Baum's career. Like other books in the series, the novel appeared under the pen name "Edith Van Dyne," one of Baum's many pseudonyms.

Though the original edition of Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad bore the date "1906" (the same as its predecessor book Aunt Jane's Nieces), the book was actually published "late in 1907."[1][2] Such a dating confusion can be found elsewhere in Baum's canon: the first edition of his adult novel The Last Egyptian bears a copyright date of 1907 and a publication date of 1908.

Background

In writing the book, Baum faced the task of creating an effective sequl to a successful novel. He enriched his story with abundant real-world observation and local color. Baum and his wife had taken an extensive tour of Egypt and the Mediterranean region during the Spring of 1906; and Baum exploited the experiences of that trip for his book.[3] The Baums had witnessed the eruption of Vesuvius on 7 April 1906; Baum used that eruption as a central event in his novel. The characters in Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad follow some of the Baums' Italian itinerary closely, even staying at the same hotels as the Baums.[4]

Summary

The eccentric and down-to-earth multimillionaire John Merrick decides to take his three beloved nieces, Patsy Doyle, Elizabeth De Graf, and Louise Merrick, on a tour of Europe. The parents of the three girls react variously, but do not oppose the trip; Mrs. Merrick, Louise's mother, wants to separate Louise from Arthur Weldon, the young man who has been courting her. (The social-climbing Mrs. Merrick is desperate for Louise to catch a rich husband. Weldon's father is a wealthy railroad magnate, but the father and son are in a clash of generations and the elder Weldon threatens to disown the younger.)

Uncle John and the three cousins embark for Europe, and make new acquaintances aboard ship. Among them is a somewhat sinister and mysterious man called Victor Valdi, who combines "refinement and barbarity" in his manner. The tourists reach Italy, where they witness a Vesuvius eruption and cope with the public's fears and a layer of ash in the streets of Naples. They encounter a local aristocrat, the Count of Ferralti, who fancies Louise — though the clever Uncle John quickly realizes that Ferralti is only a pretend nobleman. John warns Louise of the young man's pretense, but otherwise allows the acquaintance, especially after Ferralti proves a courageous help in a near-disaster on the road.

At Taormina, the travelers meet Victor Valdi again. He seems to be on his native ground here; the locals call him "Il Duca." There is much talk of the brigands of Sicily — though the locals cheerfully insist that "There are no brigands" in Sicily, an ironic refrain that weaves through the book. Soon enough, both Uncle John and Ferralti are waylaid by Valdi, who is the chief local brigand, and who makes a living for his family and followers by kidnapping travelers and holding them for ransom. Uncle John spies out the ways of Valdi's establishment, which includes his ruthless mother and his daughter Tato, who masquerades as a boy to serve as her father's henchman.

The nieces and their friends stage a bold and effective rescue of Uncle John and Ferralti. Ferralti proves to be Arthur Weldon in disguise; he has come to Europe to be with Louise. News arrives that Weldon's father has died in a railway accident, and that Arthur is now a wealthy heir. The Americans are surprised when Valdi and Tato appear at their hotel. While Tato was acting as a go-between in the ransom plot, the girl and Patsy had become something like friends; with typical generosity of spirit, Patsy does not blame the girl for the actions of her family. Now, Valdi asks the Americans to take Tato under their wings for a time: Valdi is trying to leave brigandage and start an honest life. The cousins naively accept Tato, and enjoy dressing her in a new wardrobe and teaching her manners. They are surprised when Tato absconds with the ransom cash, a full $80,000. The girl leaves a cheerful and mocking letter behind her, explaining the ruse.

Having learned their lesson, the travelers complete their tour through Italy, Switzerland, and France, and gratefully return home.

(For a more comical look at Italian bandits, see Baum's "The Box of Robbers" and "The Bandit.")

Characters

To make his sequel effective, Baum needed to develop and deepen his continuing characters. In the first book, Louise was willing to follow her mother's lead in searching for a rich husband; in the second, she favors Arthur Weldon even when he runs a risk of disinheritance, which suggests a greater sincerity, sensitivity, and independence. Though the youngest, Beth De Graf is in some ways the most formidable of the cousins: she carries a revolver and is a crack shot. Yet in the climactic confrontation with Valdi, she faints when the bullet she fires hits Valdi's finger and draws blood. Afterward she swears she will never fire a weapon again. This display of a softer side tends to balance out her personality.

References

  1. Katharine M. Rogers, L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography, New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002; pp. 143-4, 273 n. 53.
  2. Maud Gage Baum, In Other Lands Than Ours, Edited and with Photographs by L. Frank Baum, Delmar, NY, Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1988; see the Introduction by Edith and Warren Hollister.
  3. Frank Joslyn Baum and Russell P. MacFall, To Please a Child: A Biography of L. Frank Baum, Royal Historian of Oz, Chicago, Reilly & Lee, 1961; p. 226.
  4. Rogers, pp. 144, 273 n. 54.

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